Saturday, June 27, 2015

My parent's green thumbs

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled up to Michigan to visit my parents. They are getting ready to renovate their kitchen, which I can't wait to see when it is done. I helped them pack up items in the cabinets. I know this process can be an overwhelming feat, so having an extra set of hands to clean and pack items so they can be unpacked and ready for the new cabinets in a few weeks was probably pretty helpful. Like a lot of homes over time, kitchens can get dated, but what they will soon get to experience will most definitely make their cooking and family entertaining experiences very enjoyable. It will certainly have a modern country look, which makes it all the better in my opinion.

I haven't been up to Michigan in a few years, so it was a nice visit. It was certainly much cooler than we are experiencing in North Carolina.

Backyard beauties

Ma and Pa put in a new back deck a few years ago, which is really nice. It is made with composite materials that can stand those brutally cold winters and doesn't require painting. But what I was most impressed with was the flowers they have growing in the back yard around the deck. I've got to give it to them for their green thumbs. I didn't realize they had cut a piece of honeysuckle from our old farm in Ohio and have it growing in the back yard. And the peonies....oh my! So pretty.

Surrounded by floral experts

I am fortunate to have an extended family of floriculture specialists in the family. Ma has two associate degrees -- one in floriculture from The Ohio State University Agriculture and Technical Institute in Wooster, and one in fine arts from Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan. Pops has a degree in Animal Science from The Ohio State University, but does a pretty good job keeping those flower beds maintained. My husband used to teach floriculture at Randolph Community College in Asheboro, NC, and worked at a florist for several years. My daughter was on the nationally recognized FFA floriculture team at Chatham Central High School in Bear Creek, NC, where her team was 4th in the nation in 2013. Being surrounded by floral enthusiasts and having a creative itch, it came pretty natural for me to learn how to tie bows for wreaths and arrangements, as well as learning a few (and yes, only a few) botanical names of plants.

As I mentioned, I have a lot of creative interests and photography is certainly one of them. I happened to have one of my cameras with me while in Michigan and decided to get a few close ups of my parent's floral beauties. I think you will agree, they are doing a pretty good job. Enjoy!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Hand fans and Asian treats

I never thought I'd be so slack when it comes to keeping up with my own blog. I guess when you are a writer by trade it can be hard finding time to sit down and write for yourself, right? I guess it is time to pick up where I left off.

Yesterday I was on a  mission. The hot and humid weather we are experiencing so early this summer in North Carolina has been brutal, to say the least. After going to a Durham Bulls baseball game earlier this week in the 100-degree heat, I sure wish I would have had one thing: a hand fan!

My daughter's hand-painted hand fan
from Puerto Rico in 2009.
I was going to take this one shown on the left; a hand fan I had purchased at The Linen House for my daughter while on a family cruise trip that stopped over in Puerto Rico. However, I decided not to take it because it is hand painted and too much of a special souvenir from our trip. If I broke or lost it, I would never have forgiven myself. So I started thinking about where I could get an inexpensive hand fan. The light bulb went off! The Grand Asia Market in Cary, NC, would have them!

Found them!

The Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina near Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill has a large cultural base of Indians, Africans and Asians. I have never been in this particular market that specializes in Asian food and non-food goods. It is pretty good size, and I wasn't sure what to expect. As soon as I walked in, I saw what I was looking for: a basket full of different styles and colors of hand fans nestled on the floor. I was in luck! The best part was that the fans were under $5! I picked up a few $2 fans and a couple of $5 fans. I hit the jack pot! As I was digging around to find my favorite colors, a lady from Nigeria stopped and joined me. She said that she was getting ready to go on a missions trip to Haiti and needed one of these to keep cool from the heat. She, too, grabbed a $2 fan and off she went to finish her shopping.

Here is part of my stash of new hand-fans from
 the Grand Asia Market. Aren't they pretty?

Ducks and sweet treats

After gathering my pretty hand fans, I decided to take a few minutes to browse the store. sure was eye opening! I headed down a whole aisle that was dedicated to various types of noodles....and then there was an aisle with nothing but sauces! Now I know where to go when I can't find that unique Asian ingredient for my Chinese or Thai recipes at my regular grocery store. As a hobby cook, I felt like a kid in a candy store!

And then there was the butcher shop: Every kind of meat imaginable, including lots of duck, chicken hearts and fish. It reminded me of my trip to Chinatown in San Francisco many years ago. However, the only difference was that I really believe the Grand Asia Market is pretty sanitary compared to the many Chinatown shops hanging duck carcasses in their windows instead of coolers. I watched the Grand Asia butcher's prepare meat, and in such a popular store that attracts many cultures, it became apparent to me that this place had to be pretty sanitary or they would get written up by the health department. This is sad, but I have never tried duck, but I am tempted to try it sometime at the Grand Asia restaurant located in the store. It looked pretty good.

As I headed to the checkout line, I noticed a snacks aisle. I can't read Chinese, but I can see pictures that looked pretty tasty! Last year at Christmas time, my local Vietnamese nail salon ladies gave all of their customers a box of Asian wafer cookies. I'll admit, while it was a nice gesture, I was a bit apprehensive about sharing them with my family because I didn't know where they came from! Now I do! I saw a whole pile of those cookies at the Grand Asia Market.

As I was getting ready to get in line, I noticed a treat called a Choco Roll, so I got a couple and shared one with my husband. The product is made in Taiwan. We both agreed it was a really nice treat. The biggest thing we noticed is that it tasted like a classic strawberry wafer cookie wrapped in chocolate, but the taste wasn't like what we experience in the U.S. The strawberry wafer middle and the chocolate outside weren't nearly as sweet. To be honest, it was really good! Not having an over-powering sugar taste was nice for once. I need to go back and get more of these to have them in the house when we get a sweet craving. It was very satisfying.

Opening my horizons

For about 30 minutes I felt like I was in a different country. Every time a store clerk made an announcement, it was in Mandarin, which gave my experience more authenticity. It is amazing what a little cultural diversity can do for you....and who knew it is right in my back yard along.